Making time for strategy

Making time for strategy

Do you struggle to make time for strategic thinking?

Most of my clients tell me they do, and I also find it a challenge. It is so easy to be swept away by the ‘now', the urgent requests for things to be delivered.

The busyness can feel satisfying as we tick things off lists. However, it leaves us open to the risk of delivering more ‘stuff' and less ‘impact'.

In a communication sense, it leaves people reworking papers late at night because they haven't allowed time to think during the day. This is particularly so for those who lead teams and realise late in the piece that their team's papers need an overhaul before being fit for purpose.

My collaborator, Richard Medcalf of XQuadrant, has helped me enormously in this regard and I am excited to tell you about his upcoming book.

Making Time for Strategy offers deceptively simple yet ‘real world' achievable techniques that have shifted my perspective, my behaviour and my results.

In this latest episode of my new Cutting Through podcast I share my first of six interviews with Richard that share some of the insights from his book.

You can listen on your favourite podcasting platform, or on my website >>

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

December 14th

Learn how to connect the dots between complex ideas so you can prepare insightful and engaging communication.

In this 2-hour workshop I introduce the core thinking skills that underpin our ability to deliver insight rather than just ‘information'. During this interactive workshop you will

  • Learn the basis for structuring a compelling business story
  • Practice three core thinking skills that will set your communication apart from others
  • Leverage our seven most-commonly used story structuring patterns
  • Work in a small group to rework a short prose communication

Only 20 places are offered to allow me to answer everyone's questions.

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Optimising your ‘end of year review’ for maximum impact

Late November is the time when many of us are reflecting on our progress for the year and updating our stakeholders.

This can be fraught, particularly in an increasingly cost-constrained environment. Many recent working session stories have had a cost theme, as have many of the stories I have been working on with my corporate clients.

In that light I wanted to share one critical idea to focus on when preparing your next progress report.

Prioritising impact over activity is ever more important in these increasingly cost-constrained times. Let me explain what I mean.

Saying ‘we have been busy' is rarely enough. Providing a list of things you and your team have completed over the past period is the easy way out and only marginally useful. Even when the list is well-grouped, it is rarely insightful. It can also be overwhelming and just says ‘we have been busy'.

I once worked with the head of projects at a global car company and she asked me why her CFO never responded to the weekly update email he requested.

When I reviewed it I could see why.

She had listed literally 100 project tasks that had been worked on, categorised by area, without offering any insight as to how these linked to the overall objectives.

Saying ‘we are on track' is better. This at least offers stakeholders comfort to know that they have nothing to worry about. This can be sufficient, but is not always so, especially in times of heightened attention to costs.

Saying ‘we have delivered X impact' is better still. You might describe each activity you have completed alongside the impact it has delivered. It doesn't require a major shift in substance, still enables you to describe the work accomplished but is clear about the impact delivered.

Explaining how your team could deliver more impact is best. This requires you to take a step back and look for opportunities to optimise your ways of working within your area as well stepping outside that area to focus on your purpose.

If you reflect on the reason why your program of work exists and ask whether your priorities and activities are still the best way to achieve that goal, you may find some gems.

Even though this can be difficult and perhaps feel risky, it demonstrates that your commitment is in line with delivering maximum returns rather than just ‘doing work'.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

December 15th

Learn how to connect the dots between complex ideas so you can prepare insightful and engaging communication.

In this 2-hour workshop I introduce the core thinking skills that underpin our ability to deliver insight rather than just ‘information'. During this interactive workshop you will

  • Learn the basis for structuring a compelling business story
  • Practice three core thinking skills that will set your communication apart from others
  • Leverage our seven most-commonly used story structuring patterns
  • Work in a small group to rework a short prose communication

Only 20 places are offered to allow me to answer everyone's questions.

RELATED POSTS

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

When to not focus on the data

When to not focus on the data

I was sharing war stories with one of my collaborators this week. An interesting story emerged where ‘poor communication' cost a chief financial officer (CFO) his job.

Why?

Because he focused on the data.

Let me explain.

The CFO assumed his role was to provide regular and accurate numbers that the CEO and Board would not just read, but also interpret.

However, the CEO and the Board wanted insights about the company's performance.

This material disconnect cost him his job as the leadership did not see that the company was in major difficulty until late in the piece.

So, what went wrong here?

While I agree that a CFO has a responsibility to explain what the performance data means, I also see a systemic issue that goes beyond the CFO himself. This could have been avoided if

  •  The CEO and Board asked better questions inside and outside formal Board meetings
  • The company secretary clarified expectations that insights were central to the financial reports when the CFO took the role on years previously
  • The CEO and the Chair called out the lack of insight in the papers as a general expectation
  • The Board did not accept that poor quality papers are commonplace and too hard to fix

I offer this as a cautionary tale.

Quality governance and decision making requires insightful communication both inside and around key papers.

Assuming that the data is enough, or that poor quality papers is ‘par for the course' is not just a risk for you but also for the organisation.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

 

Cutting Through Podcast Now Live

Last week I launched my new podcast, Cutting Through.

My first two posts, a short intro and an interview discussing how to get around one of the biggest challenges when communicating about risk management.

My guest, Anthony Wilson from ABM Risk Management shares deep wisdom stemming from decades in risk and assurance.

He also offers his comprehensive risk management framework.

Listen on your favourite podcasting app or here on my website.

PS – Apologies to those of you who may tried to find it on Spotify, Apple and Google Play last weekend. The episode took longer to publish than we expected.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

New Podcast – CUTTING THROUGH

I am excited to announce that I have begun a podcast.

Cutting Through interviews experts who have done just that.

They have cut through with stakeholders who do not share their expertise to achieve material outcomes.

This could mean …

  • engaging a multi-disciplinary group such as a leadership team or a Board in a risk management, technology, human resources or another kind of issue
  • motivating your team or perhaps your peers about a major change to the way they need to work, or
  • communicating to deliver maximum value in another professional setting.

Each of these situations offers its unique set of challenges and an opportunity to learn lessons to apply to our own communication.

Episode 1 with Anthony Wilson of ABM Risk Management offers suggestions for engaging senior leaders in thinking about risk management as change management.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. Anthony shares decades of wisdom as a senior leader and advisor to some of Australia's largest organisations.

You can find Cutting Through on your favourite podcast player or here on my website.

I look forward to bringing this and more to you over the coming months.

I hope you enjoy the episodes as much as I am.

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

On being a ‘human dartboard’…

On being a ‘human dartboard’…

There haven't been many times in my career when I have felt like a ‘human dartboard' but teaching one group of lawyers most certainly felt that way.

In a good way!

There is something fantastic about helping people who are engaged enough to actually test me.

They pretty much litigated every idea I shared with them as a form of sport. Not only was the workshop loaded with fun and banter, they helped me fine tune the quality of my ideas.

This is one of the many things covered in a recent podcast interview on the Investing for Life podcast with Douglas Isles from Platinum Asset Management.

We discuss a diverse range of topics including:

  1. How it all started on an 800-acre potato farm on the Victorian border, before continuing in Adelaide as a teacher
  2. Shifting gears in Hong Kong to join McKinsey and – at one point – across four countries in 12 months with two children under three
  3. Setting up in Australia to establish Clarity First, Clarity Thought Partners and write The So What Strategy.
  4. How I think about professional communication.

This is less serious than most professional podcasts, and one I hope you find enjoyable.

>> Click here to listen or visit Investing for Life on your preferred podcasting app.

More soon.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – Look out for news about my own communication podcast, Cutting Through, which will start in the coming weeks.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

A tip or a trick would not have fixed this

Twice monthly at Clarity First hold live working sessions.

Participants join these to collaborate on real, live communication challenges.

This week's session was a ‘monster' which required advanced structuring and synthesis techniques to solve.

The challenges we faced reminded me why a ‘tip or a trick' won't help when faced with complex communication challenges. ‘Cracking' this one required at least five key ingredients:

  1. Familiarity with the business context and the project in question. We clarified this by brainstorming and asking questions
  2. A solid understanding of the stakeholder environment. We unpacked this using our 5 key ‘understand your audience' questions
  3. An agreed way to capture and structure our ideas in the shortest possible time, which focused around our storyline structures
  4. A powerful ability to synthesise a message out of complexity, which relied on our top down and bottom up thinking strategies
  5. Advanced understanding of how to ‘flip' storyline patterns and test them against first principles. We used these to draft an accurate and persuasive change request.


Do you also find it challenging to ‘wrestle' complex ideas into clear, high-quality communication?

If so, it's time to join Clarity First.

Doors open on 11 September and will close at 9pm AEST on 21 September.

Learn more about the program here or go straight here to register for your desired pathway.

  • Intensive – limited to 20 extra places (10 already taken)
  • Classic – learn at your own pace, unlimited places  
  • Foundation – get extra 1-1 help from me, 2 places only 


I hope to see you in the program.

Davina

Clarity First Registrations Now Open!


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

An idea to help you structure your communication

An idea to help you structure your communication

This week I reviewed a ‘boat load' of client communication to provide feedback.

A common theme emerged, which you may find familiar?

Just because communication includes well-formed sentences organised tidily into categories doesn't mean it cuts the mustard.

And, the categories can be the problem.


A category is not a message

A list of categories is not a ‘story structure'


To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch.

I hope that helps. More next week.

Kind regards,
Davina

Clarity First Intensive starts late September


In Clarity First we introduce structured communication techniques to help you engage decision makers.

We go beyond platitudes like “keep it short” and “give me less detail” to teach you how to turn your information into high-quality insights.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about the program:

We offer three learning pathways to choose from

Intensive – for those who want structure and focus so they can move through the material and build their skills in 3 months. Includes 6 interactive workshops + online pre-work + copy of The So What Strategy + access to small group coaching. 30 places max. 12 already taken.

Classic – for those who want to learn in their own time and enjoy small-group coaching. Join on monthly or yearly subscriptions.

Foundation – for those who want more. Enjoy everything in the Intensive as well as the Classic pathways + 4 x speed coaching sessions + 6 x email feedback on your own work. 2 places only available.

>> Download the latest brochure here.

Get your ‘Pitch your boss' kit here


If you want your manager to invest in your development, you need to do your homework before you have the conversation.

Your manager will want to know exactly why this is the right program for you and how it will help the team and the organisation.

We have provided a brochure, a draft script and some steps to follow to help you prepare for your conversation.

>> Download the latest ‘kit' here.


See what others say here

A number of program members have shared their experience of Clarity First – warts and all.

Click here to see what they say.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Why length doesn’t matter

Why length doesn’t matter

Do you often wish other people's communication was shorter?

Or, perhaps you are asked to shorten yours?

This is a common request that I think is misguided.

Let me explain why.

Stakeholders don't ask you to make your communication shorter because it's hard to read. They ask because it is too hard to read.

So, when you use ‘TLDR' … which for those of you who aren't familiar with this term means ‘To Long, Didn't Read', try this one instead:

THDR – Too Hard, Didn't Read

To see an example and get some more ideas to help you with your communication, watch this recent workshop I ran.

>> Click here to watch

I hope that helps.

Davina

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

3 ideas for cutting the time it takes to prepare your communication

As I was packing my bags to return to Sydney I realised there was a parallel between my packing process and communicating.

Really?

Read on or skip to the three ideas at the bottom for the ‘TLDR'.

Packing for the return trip was vastly easier than when we left for our one month away.

On the way out it was quite an effort.

I wasn't sure what the weather would be like: the forecast kept changing for the Pacific North West, so it seemed smart to be ready for anything.

I also wasn't sure exactly what we would be doing. Did I need mainly casual clothes, or to factor in some smarter nights out? How much hiking would we do? Not sure.

I was also in a rush as I left it late to pack.

The answer was to think carefully – and quickly – about multi-purposing and coordinating each item.

This meant items went in and out of the bag, and quite a few things were added at the last minute.

This made for a full looking bag that wasn't as organised as it could have been.

The reason it was easier to pack for the return was that there was no more thinking to do.

I knew exactly what to pack.

Unsurprisingly, the bag is neater and looks less ‘stuffed' too.

But … what on earth does this have to do with preparing communication?

We encourage clients to separate thinking from writing and ‘PowerPoint-ing' to ensure the end communication works.

This way, the ideas in the final communication aren't ‘thrown in' anywhere, the story isn't overstuffed with excess baggage with the overall message being muddled.

When the thinking is done, it's super easy to ‘pack' ideas into a well-synthesised, logical and engaging piece of communication.

To that end, here are three ideas to help you nail your thinking so it is super fast to prepare a high-quality document.


  1. Consider your first draft (possibly several) to be written for yourself, not your audience.
  2. Commit to containing the high-level messaging to a single page before you prepare any final documents.
  3. Socialise that one-pager with peers and key stakeholders before you prepare your document.


That's right … nail the messaging before you open the Board paper template, PowerPoint … or whatever medium you are using.

I hope that helps. More next week.

 

Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

Invitation: Thinking Skills Workshop

It’s tempting to think that preparing papers and PowerPoints is a low-level skill mastered early in your career.

And in part that is true.

If you are a mid-level executive, you most likely have had some success in explaining how your project is progressing and seeking approval for more resources.

You will likely have improved on the examples your predecessor used to get there. You will also have added a few tips and tricks from the business writing and presentation skills training programs you have completed.

You may have engaged Board members in big decisions too.

But perhaps something is still niggling you?

You can see that you haven’t quite nailed ‘the magic’. Perhaps you are

  • spending too much time out of hours preparing your communication
  • gaining approvals only after answering endless (obvious?) questions from stakeholders
  • being promoted more slowly than you would like?

At Clarity First we are confident that the missing ingredient is the ability to synthesise complex ideas into a single high-quality message.

Here's what that means:

  1. Knowing your audience intimately so you can deliver a message that doesn't just explain what your data says, but what it means to that specific audience
  2. Having a structured and repeatable process to work out what that message is (ie synthesise it)
  3. Crafting a well-structured and engaging narrative that will get you the results you need as quickly as possible

Here's what this does not mean: Learning how to …

  1. Write better prose
  2. Create more beautiful PowerPoints
  3. Feel more confident when you stand in front of a room

These things are a consequence of ‘nailing' your material and your message.

They are not the main game.

I invite you to join my August Thinking Skills Workshop to learn more.

>> Learn more here.

Warm regards,
Davina

PS – While away on sabbatical I caught up with two long-term clients in person. One of them thanked me. He said :

Lots of people say they do what you do. But in my experience, none of them actually deliver on that.

Your process works. I can do it every time and I get the results I need.

I wish I knew about it earlier in my career.
It would have made such a difference.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

Why thinking and writing don’t mix

I was reminded this week of why thinking and writing don't mix if you want to deliver impact at work.

It's great if you want to keep a journal, write a novel or perhaps some poetry.

But, bear with me.

I do believe writing helps us clarify our thinking.

But I also think writing to think inside a doc or a deck makes for poor business communication.

Communication quality is further reduced by socializing your document with others.


Let me offer three reasons why I believe ‘thinking' into a document leads to cluttered communication that takes far too long to deliver value.

Clarity of messaging is compromised as we seek useful input from others. In today's busy world, messaging must jump off the page the minute someone opens an email, paper or PowerPoint.

Asking stakeholders to review lengthy docs or decks leads to a mess of track changes that focus on the minutiae rather than the substance.

Quality of insight is hard to coalesce into a cohesive argument. If you draft your ideas inside an email, a doc or a deck you will naturally wander all over the place. Your thinking will evolve some here, some there as ideas form. The structure of your story and the quality of your messaging will wander likewise.

Velocity is nearly impossible. By velocity I mean the speed with which you can create your communication, with which your audience can digest it and then make a decision. When my clients skip using a one-page storyline they frequently see at least three problems. They see extensive rework, delayed decisions and lots of last minute scrambling to ‘fix' their docs and decks.

As one CEO said to me recently:

“We chose to introduce your storylining method as it offered a system we could replicate across the business.”
“Iterating 16 times around a Board paper just doesn't make business sense.”
Now I receive a stack of one-pagers and spend 15 minutes reviewing each one before offering substantive feedback to the team.”
“The team then uses this to finesse their messaging before they quickly prepare their documents.”
“Our Board and SLT papers have improved out of sight”.



I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Do you get lost in the detail too?

Are you so close to your work that you lose sight of what it's all really for?

It's interesting to me how I for one forget the obvious.

I move forward forgetting that what is obvious to me is often not obvious to others.

I was again reminded of this today in an advanced workshop with one of my government clients.

We were using a ‘pattern flipping' technique, which involves some fairly sophisticated mental gymnastics.

We play with storyline patterns to create new ones that better frame the story we need to tell.

This is more helpful to this client than most because their stories are huge and incredibly complex.

So, here's the thing.

To make ‘flipping work', I have to see storylines as a thinking machine that helps me work out what my message is. They are not a template to fill in.

To me this is pretty ‘ho hum'.

Of course they are! I use them all day every day.

But to see the light turn on in my clients' eyes around this was magic.

Here's what happened. They did five things …

Stopped being so literal and started to think. They began focusing on how to tweak a pattern so it suited their purpose, rather than taking a quick look at the favourite seven and saying ‘that'll do'.

Began to lean into how a storyline structure can highlight thinking problems. They could find and fix thinking problems by testing the ‘rules' that hold the ideas together.

Went beyond ‘clarity' to deliver ‘insight'. They started drawing out powerful and insightful messages rather than delivering something accurate and on topic but not impactful.

Saw how much faster they went if they started slow. Although storylining can be time consuming and mentally taxing, they saw how much time they saved by slowing down enough to think at the start.

Realised how much more value they could deliver. Less time reworking papers, speaking to people who don't respond to emails or don't ‘get' the message they are conveying. Better clarity of message. Greater quality of insight. Greater velocity of business.

I hope that helps.

Warmly,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

4 ways to know if your message is powerful

We talk a lot about the clarity of communication. To me that means how easy it is for a person in our audience to grasp what we are saying.

This is, I suggest, only ground level for powerful business communication.​

The next level is to deliver a high-quality message. By my way of thinking this is a message that is not just clear, but which delivers significant value.

In most situations this requires a good degree of synthesis, and I thought sharing four key questions we ask might help you assess the quality of your own communication.

To test the quality of our messaging, we ask ourselves what level of message we have used.

  1. Level 1 – Is this a piece of data? A piece of data is a fact. For example, '10 widgets'. This is not a message, but rather a stand alone piece of information.
  2. Level 2 – Is this a topic? A topic is a category, eg ‘Options'. This explains what you are discussing, but not what you are saying. On its own, it is not a quality message.
  3. Level 3 – Is this a summary? A summary is useful when explaining what you found in some analysis. For example: “We sold 10 widgets more last week than we have sold over the past year”. It is an observation and tells you what your data set ‘says'.
  4. Level 4 – Is this a powerful message? A powerful message delivers the most value of any. It synthesises, which means it draws an inference from the information and says what it means. It involves taking a risk and is where the value lies.

I encourage you to review the three most recent pieces of communication you have prepared and assess what level your communication was at.

If you find very few level 4 messages ask yourself why and see if you can level them up in your next piece.

I hope that helps and look forward to bringing you more next week.

Davina

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

PowerPoint or prose…?

PowerPoint or prose…?

I didn't expect the results from my ‘quick and dirty' prose v PowerPoint survey to land where they did. 

Let me share the findings and observations with you and draw my conclusion.

The findings In asking people what communication form their organisations use for discussing important decisions, prose wins hands-down. Here are the results:

  1. Mainly prose – 292 clicks
  2. A mix of prose and PowerPoint – 165
  3. Mainly PowerPoint – 155

My observations I was surprised at the degree of the skew toward prose given I am often asked to help people with their PowerPoint presentations. Two things stood out:

  1. The consistency of the trend: The ratio of responses in favour of prose held steady from the start, with the balance between ‘a mix' and ‘mainly PPT' holding steady also
  2. How few used both prose and PowerPoint: Far fewer readers said they used a mix than I expected (I had assumed this would be where 80+ landed)

My conclusion – I guess I am not as alone as I thought in my growing concern about the challenges and potential ineffectiveness of PowerPoint.

I do think it's a useful tool, but increasingly agree with Jeff Bezos that it can get in the way of powerful messaging.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

What to do with ‘pros and cons’?

 I had a fabulous question this week: where do we fit ‘pros' and ‘cons' in our storyline?

That is a ‘ripper' of a question.

My answer is this: lists of pros and cons don't belong in your communication, they help you think through that message. 

Let me explain.

If we provide lists of pros and cons for an idea, we are providing information rather than insight. This matters, because in taking this approach we

  • Ask our audience to do the thinking work for us
  • Risk that they will misinterpret our analysis and draw unhelpful conclusions
  • Let ourselves down by not adding as much value as we could

If, instead, we do the thinking for our audience, we will deliver insights that emerge from our own analysis of the pros and cons list.

Although more intellectually challenging, this is better for us and our audience. We know more about the area than they do and we don't miss the opportunity to share our value add.

If your audience is explicitly asking for pros and cons lists, pop them in the appendix. Focus your main communication around your interpretation of that list.

Hopefully next time they won't ask for the list, but rather for your insights.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

 2 ways to spend less time prepping your comms

Love or hate Jeff Bezos, he has had some very very good ideas when it comes to decision making communication.

I was talking about one of these with a client earlier this week. Given she liked the ideas and planned to implement them, I thought I'd share them with you also.

The most prominent idea relates to avoiding PowerPoint in favour of tightly crafted prose narratives to maximise quality decision making. Let me explain the two key ideas my client found so useful.

Avoid PowerPoint presentations. In relying on Edward Tufte's work on visualising information, ‘Jeff' decided to ban PowerPoint for reasons that seem sound to me.

  • Preparing decks is hard to do it well, and he questioned the value of spending lots of time fussing over lining up boxes and making ‘pretty slides' versus thinking hard about the ideas to convey.
  • Presenting is a slow way to convey ideas. According to Tufte, we can absorb information three times faster by reading than by listening to a presentation.
  • Great presenters can ‘wallpaper over' cracks in their logic with their energy and charisma, leading to poor decisions.

Here's what they do instead.

Rely on short, tightly crafted prose narratives instead. They don't insist on any particular way of writing these, just that they be short and effective in setting up a great discussion. Their use in meetings is, however, prescribed as follows. The papers are

  • Read during the meeting. This has at least two few benefits: everyone actually reads the papers and the quality of the thinking is better because of the extra focus paid to them.
  • Designed to be a ‘goldilocks length' that takes about a third of the meeting to read. They suggest 3 pages for a 30 minute meeting and 6 for a one-hour meeting on the assumption that the typical exec takes about 3 minutes to read a page. Interestingly, apparently Jeff Bezos is always the last to finish reading as he critiques every single sentence by asking: what if that were false?
  • Reviewed in advance to ensure they deserve their place in the meeting.

I hope that provides some useful food for thought.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am curious to see what tools your organisations use.

If you click the relevant link below, I'll see the tally and can factor this into my program design for you.

In my organisation, decision making papers are …

When you click the link it will take you to a post on my website that offers some ideas on different ways to think about communication.

I'll let you know the results next week.

Registrations Open:

Thinking Skills Workshop

May 27th

Moving away from PowerPoint shines a light on the need to craft a really crisp narrative.

We can no longer hide or ad lib: we must think hard to connect the dots between our ideas no matter how complex the material.

Learn the foundational skills for untangling complex ideas so you can move from delivering ‘information' to conveying insightful, high-quality messages that are easily understood.

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

How thinking skills underpin your ability to present with confidence

This week I received two requests to help with presentation skills, one for a finance professional and one for a group of about 80 analysts.

In both cases presentation skills were not the main issue.

In my opinion, they were just ‘tip of the iceberg'.

The real problem lies in synthesising findings into a clear, insightful, outcome-oriented message.

Let me explain with a diagram and then the back story.

 

 

From what I could see, the issue that I was being asked to solve: ‘standing with confidence' and ‘projecting their voice', were the least of their problems.

In both cases, presenters lost confidence when they received the wrong kinds of questions that led to the wrong kinds of discussions … and slow or no decisions.

When messages are not well synthesised decision makers ask questions that help them understand the message. This often involves diving into minute detail as decision makers attempt to do the thinking work themselves.

I see this most when recommendations are buried among a long series of facts. It forces decision makers to connect the dots between the facts, which leads them to lose the thread. This in turn leads them to ask questions to clarify the message rather than discussing the issue.

Conversations become convoluted, at times feeling more like an interrogation than a discussion. They also rarely lead to a high-quality or fast decision.

This is frustrating for all concerned and why I prioritise thinking skills.

I teach you to connect the dots into a well-synthesised message, so your audience doesn't have to.

Later this month I will hold a Thinking Skills MasterClass to uncover the skills essential to synthesising powerful messages.

This will then help you receive the right kinds of questions … and enjoy greater confidence when presenting your ideas in any forum.

>> Learn more here

Kind regards,
Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

Clarity of communication = clarity of skin

This is an unusual post but one I hope will help.

I just responded to a post by an old friend, Dr James Muecke who happened to be Australian of the year in 2020 for his work fighting sugar.

Look at how well he simplified and shared the message ….

Great (cheeky?) use of humour – Zits away …?

Demonstrates credibility – This recent systematic review concludes that “high glycemic index, increased glycemic load, and carbohydrate intake have a modest yet significant proacnegenic effect.”

Simple and visual summary – In other words, sugar => pimples

Clear takeaway that had me thinking about the young people in my own family – This might just motivate your kids to reduce their sugar intake …

Although I would have reordered these points for greater impact, I was thoroughly impressed by the simplicity and the timing (given many of us are about to binge on chocolate during Easter!).

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,
Davina

PS – I am hosting five MasterClasses during May: one introductory level one, and four others for people with more experience using the Pyramid Principle or our framework, The So What Strategy.

>> Click here to learn about my May MasterClasses

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

I came to Friday's interview with Matt Lohmeyer a bit selfishly. Negotiating has often made me nervous and yet he seems to thrive while discussing and doing it.

So, I wanted to learn how he gets great outcomes while actually enjoying the process.

If I am to interpret Matt correctly, the ‘insight' is to explore ‘possibility’ and seek out ‘opportunity’ rather than be driven by the fear of being cornered by a win/lose proposition.

Here are three fear busters that I took away that I hope help you also.

  1. Deal with the hairy beasts first
  2. See popular techniques as tools rather than the main strategy
  3. Avoid saying no

Let me now give you some more detail about these before offering the video recording and two powerful and free tools from Matt.

1 – Deal with the hairy beasts first. By that, Matt suggests dealing with the most difficult issues of a negotiation first. He recommends agreeing the negotiation strategy at the beginning as a way to build rapport, rather than dealing with small items. An example might help.

At the beginning you might ask the other person (note, I am deliberate in not saying ‘the other side') to identify their biggest concern. You might even suggest that you think item X is going to be the most difficult thing to resolve.

This gives them an opportunity to agree or to indicate that item Y or Z is a bigger deal for them. Taking this approach offers many advantages. You

  • Enter into a collegiate discussion about the way forward that builds rapport
  • Gain insight into their situation
  • Work out quickly whether this negotiation will go far or not, so that you can avoid wasting time and resources if it is unresolvable
  • Hold onto valuable bargaining chips that could help you address the hairy beast rather than trading them away to solve lower level issues

2 – See popular techniques as tools rather than the primary strategy. Matt suggests that emphasising win-win solutions or splitting the difference results in mediocre outcomes. Why?

Because they leave you thinking small. They lead you to

  • Being adversarial which can put you back in the fear corner'
  • Trading items tit for tat around micro elements of the deal
  • Taking energy away from finding a really great outcome that neither party may have considered at the start of the discussion.

3 – Avoid saying no, and frame your response as a possible alternative. This doesn't mean NEVER saying no as Matt was quick to point out, but rather avoid saying it.

To give an example. Instead of saying ‘No, I can't have coffee with you tomorrow afternoon', say ‘I could have coffee with you at 9am tomorrow at a location near me'.

This then puts the onus back on the other person to decide whether they will make the extra effort to make that time and location work.

This is a simple example, but a powerful principle that empowers me by offering a constructive way out.

These are just some of the gems that Matt shared. You can visit the recording below as well as download two powerful resources he has for us all.

 

DOWNLOADS:

1. A diagnostic to help you calibrate your personal blend of preferred negotiation strategies with the norm group of over 2,500 other executives. How do you actually negotiate? To unlock this tool, you will need to use the password Mythbusters.

Click here to access >>

2. A generously detailed PDF full of negotiation strategies for you to employ – register below to receive access to Matt's eBook:

 

Kind Regards,

Davina

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.

INTERVIEW – Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths

I was a bit nervous during my recent lunch with Dr Matt Lohmeyer of Negotiation Partners.

I foolishly (?) said that sometimes people tell me that I don't only help with their communication, but also with their ability to negotiate.

I was referring to the way I help people work out what to include in a storyline and how to socialise a recommendation to gain stakeholder support.

Thankfully he wasn't offended!

It did lead to a terrific discussion that led to me inviting him to speak at next week's free workshop: Busting 3 Business Negotiation Myths.

Let me explain why I invite him to speak: the obvious, the curious and the ideas.

The obvious: he's deeply experience with something relevant to say. Matt has been helping executives build their negotiation skills for decades in Australia and elsewhere. He ‘gets my people' and has a genuine desire to help people build their skills and an intelligence that helps get the job done.

The curious: he has a practical counter-intuitive ‘take' on his subject. A number of his ideas run counter to some of the popular views I see on social media at the moment. The first one that drew me in was this:

Never say no.
Always find a way to say yes, and define the terms that would work for you.


I liked how that approach reduces the need to hide in a mental ‘us and them' bunker and flips my mindset toward finding a solution.

The ideas: he debunked many of my assumptions. Matt debunked a long list of business negotiation myths that seem helpful to me. We whittled that list to three for the upcoming workshop:

    1. It’s about getting a win-win deal (it's not!)
    2. Never split the difference (forget what you may have read!)
    3. Start by settling the easy issues to build rapport before tackling the more challenging issues (not necessarily!)

We'd be delighted if you join us and provide any questions you may have for Matt in the registration form.

To be clear, we're not selling anything. Just having a ‘good yarn' and sharing some ideas that we hope will help you.

We hope to see you there.

>> Register here.

Kind regards,
Davina


PS – a ‘yarn' is Australian slang for a terrific conversation. I hope you will be able to join us.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.